by Olivia Sandbothe | February 12, 2016
With his latest budget proposal unveiled this week, President Obama is sending a strong message to Congress: the economy may be improving, but without serious investments in healthcare, education and infrastructure, the middle class will be left behind.
As The New York Times reports, this budget is focused on undoing a dangerous trend in our economy in which “risks have shifted onto working people.” It calls for an elimination of the funding cuts known as sequestration, which have been in effect since 2013 and have left important public services starved of resources. The President also is calling for an expansion of unemployment insurance, a stronger Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and more funding for job training, education and child care.
“We need to update several key benefit structures to make sure that workers can balance work and family, save for retirement, and get back on their feet if they lose a job,” Obama said in his statement on the proposal.
The President can only make recommendations on the budget, and it’s unlikely that this hostile Congress will take him up on many of his proposals. But AFSCME will continue to fight for policies that help working families.
Some elements of the budget would have an important impact on funding for state and local services. It calls for a $900 billion dollar investment in transportation and infrastructure – a longtime labor priority that would not only create thousands of good jobs, but help us avoid crises like the water system catastrophe currently unfolding in Flint, Michigan.
Infrastructure investments would be paid for with a new $10.25 per-barrel fee on oil. But the budget plan also calls for an increase in taxes from the wealthy as well as closing certain corporate tax breaks. It also would increase grants for public safety at the state and local level and expand programs to treat drug abuse in our communities.
On health care, the President is proposing a special assist for Puerto Rico. The federal government does not give the same kind of support to the territory’s health care system as it does to the states, but President Obama would increase funding to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid system and to its hospitals.
Finally, there’s a call to bring the United States in line with the rest of the developed world when it comes to paid leave. The proposed Paid Leave Partnership Initiative would assist states in developing paid leave policies for workers.
by David Kreisman | February 11, 2016
CHICAGO - With Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace deadlines approaching, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 partnered with Working America in January to host two health care fairs to help drivers sign up for health insurance on the ACA marketplace, or apply for Medicaid if they qualify.
More than 100 drivers came out to the O’Hare DePaul campus, with the vast majority applying for Medicaid.
“We’re seeing a 50 percent drop in business due to unregulated services like Uber, on top of all the expenses we have just to operate,” said Nnamdi Uwazie, a veteran Chicago cab driver and Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 member. “Most of us here today qualify for Medicaid.”
“It’s important for cab drivers to understand that they need to factor in their operating expenses when determining health insurance options,” Uwazie said. “Many of us are paying for insurance on the marketplace, when we could be getting free insurance through Medicaid due to our incomes dropping so much.”
In the coming weeks and months, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 will hold additional Medicaid signup fairs. Dates and locations will be posted on www.CabDriversUnitedAFSCME.org.
by Mike Lee | February 11, 2016
NEW YORK – AFSCME DC 37 took its campaign for adequate funding for the City University of New York (CUNY) to the state Capitol in Albany, calling on the Legislature to step up to the plate for higher education.
“If you believe that higher education is a priority then you are going to have to fund it in the proper way,” DC 37 Exec. Dir. Henry Garrido declared at a Feb. 8 news conference. “We believe that is a priority for not only who we represent, but also for the people in our communities who otherwise have no other opportunities to advance themselves.”
Garrido later testified at a legislative hearing about the CUNY funding issue.
In his proposed budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo shifts nearly $500 million in CUNY funding from the state to the city. DC 37 wants those funds restored – in part because the cost-shifting would impose a new financial burden on the city. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio vowed to fight the proposed cuts at CUNY “by any means necessary.”
The union and other CUNY supporters also want to stop the annual tuition hikes of $300, which students have faced for the last five years. The Cuomo budget calls for these increases to continue for an additional five years.
Speakers at the news conference also called upon legislators to approve a “maintenance-of-effort” bill that would guarantee funding for mandatory annual cost increases of the state and city university systems, and cover collective bargaining costs. CUNY employees represented by DC 37 have been working without a contract since 2010, and they have not received a raise since 2009.
Governor Cuomo in December vetoed an earlier maintenance-of-effort bill that the Assembly and the Senate had passed unanimously.
Andy Pallotta, executive vice president of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), said the money is there for contract settlements. “For year after year we were told, ‘we are broke, we have no money, you have to understand.’ This time around there is a $5 billion surplus. This money – during this budget session – must be used to take care of this.”
“This is a cause,” said Dr. Barbara Bowen, head of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents CUNY faculty and other professional workers. “What it really means is not killing CUNY and SUNY (the State University of New York) by the death of a thousand cuts. That is what the maintenance of effort is about.”
Learn more about how you can support CUNY workers and their fight for a fair contract at www.stopstarvingCUNY.org.
by Kenneth Quinnell, AFL-CIO | February 11, 2016
Why not give your valentine some union-made sweets this Feb. 14, toast your love with champagne that carries a union label or touch up your pheromones a bit with some smell-good union-made scents.
It turns out there are many union-made treats you can give out on Valentine's Day. The iconic Necco candy Sweethearts conversation hearts are made by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM). Several familiar sparkling libations such as J. Roget and Tott’s are produced by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Here are some more products compiled by our friends at Labor 411, the union business directory from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, made by union members.
- Ghirardelli Chocolate
- Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses
- Russell Stover
- See’s Candies
- Eden Roc
- J. Roget
- Jacques Bonet
- Jacques Reynard
- Le Domaine
- Hugo Boss
- Old Spice
- Pierre Cardin
by Clyde Weiss | February 10, 2016
Correctional officer Mollie Jansen and some of her colleagues at Ohio’s Mansfield Correctional Institution are helping to put a human face on the critical issue of understaffing that is threatening the health and safety of officers and inmates at the state facility.
Jansen, who has worked for almost three years at the mixed-security prison for men, is a member of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association /AFSCME Local 11, which has been calling on state authorities to fill vacant positions at Mansfield and other correctional institutions in the state to relieve the understaffing. The issue has grown even more critical since last October, when an inmate in Mansfield took a female correction officer (not Jansen) hostage for nearly 11 hours.
This past weekend, the Mansfield News Journal and other Gannett newspapers focused on the issue, airing OCSEA’s concern that “programing and staffing issues” are root causes for the hostage-taking. OCSEA’s efforts to inform the public and elected officials about the issue have made it a subject of news media attention like never before.
The News Journal interviewed CO Jansen about her anxiety working at Mansfield, pointing out “she’s already undergone counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder” that began about six months ago “when an inmate grabbed her as she tried to escort him to his cell and he couldn’t be subdued with pepper spray. Now, she said, she’s had enough. “I won’t stay a correction officer,” the paper quoted her saying. “I can’t. It’s too dangerous.”
The News Journal story noted that of all the state correctional facilities, Mansfield has had the highest number of staff assaults between 2011 and 2013, with 55 injured. The facility, which opened in 1990, housed 2,589 inmates as of Jan. 4, 2016. It has a security staff of 436, according to the prison’s website.
“Statewide, there are 6,547 correction officers, about eight inmates for each correction officer compared to seven to one in November 2008 when the prison population was at its peak,” the paper said.
CO Shawn Gruber, an OCSEA board member, suggested three ways to reduce assaults against staff: lower the prison population, increase correctional staff and listen to staff on the frontlines.
OCSEA also says that state prison officials need to end the practice of allowing officers to work alone with inmates.
by Tiffanie Bright | February 10, 2016
The AFL-CIO on Feb. 4 launched the first in a series of nationwide symposiums to address the growing economic inequality among U.S. workers – particularly African Americans. Working in partnership with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the AFL-CIO intends to identify the many ways systemic racism affects black workers, and provide real policy solutions to address the growing disparity.
The typical black household now has just 6 percent of the wealth of the typical white household, according to a Demos report, “The Racial Wealth Gap.” “We need to fix the rules of our economy to treat everyone the same,” said AFL-CIO Exec. Vice. Pres. Tefere Gebre in his welcome address. People of color need the biggest ladder to move up to the middle class, and that way is through public-sector employment, he added.
The steady loss of public-sector jobs after the Great Recession disproportionately affected African Americans. And with the looming threat of an adverse decision in the Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the black middle class might become obsolete.
“We realize that black workers are the canary in the mines. Everything that happens to labor will happen to us harder,” cautioned the Rev. Terry Melvin, president of CBTU and co-author of “A Future for Workers: A Contribution from Black Labor.”
“Black workers comprise the segment of the working class that normally is subject to the forward thrusts of employer offensives. It is the segment of the working class that suffers the most from unemployment and underemployment,” the report concludes.
Now more than ever, African-American workers need good jobs with strong benefits and wages. And just as urgently, labor needs to organize black workers to grow the labor movement.
by Michael Byrne | February 08, 2016
Former AFSCME Sec.-Treas. William Lucy returned to the union’s headquarters Feb. 8 to celebrate Black History Month, declaring that low-wage jobs are the new slavery and that unions – particularly AFSCME – are powerful instruments that can bring people together and elevate dignity and respect for all working people.
“AFSCME started as just an idea, because we were not granted the same rights that unions in the public sector got under Franklin Roosevelt,” he said. “We’ve had to fight for everything we’ve gotten, turning our good idea into a great organization. We’ve empowered African Americans, and all public service workers.”
Lucy was introduced by AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, who noted not only his nearly five decades of leadership with AFSCME, but also Lucy’s work as the president of Public Service International, which represents millions of public service workers around the globe, and how he co-founded both the Free South Africa Movement and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).
“Bill was also in Memphis in 1968, working with the 1,300 sanitation workers, standing shoulder to shoulder with them as they fought for representation with AFSCME,” President Saunders said. “This union is in his heart, and his soul, and his blood.”
Lucy traced historical milestones that benefited African Americans and AFSCME, such as President Kennedy’s executive order that opened union representation for federal public employees, and which AFSCME used in lobbying state governments to expand union rights for public service workers. While many African Americans were leery of President Johnson, he said, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act that came out of his administration are landmarks.
The formation of the CBTU came about because African-American trade unionists were disappointed that the AFL-CIO decided to remain “neutral” in the Presidential race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, Lucy said. “We thought there was a big difference between the two, so we called a meeting in Chicago. We were not the only ones concerned, because 1,300 other black trade unionists showed up for that meeting.”
Lucy compared President Obama to FDR, noting that the two had pulled our nation out of great depressions and recessions. “And now the same crowd that caused our problems are asking for another chance.”
He said the coalition of labor, African Americans, women and Hispanics is key for progressives to win elections. “Our opponents want to divide and conquer, but if we stay united, we will win.”
by Michael Byrne | February 05, 2016
A federal judge has ruled that a Kentucky local government meddled illegally in efforts to undermine workers’ rights, passing a so-called right-to-work ordinance. These types of ordinances are pushed by anti-worker organizations like the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
Twelve local jurisdictions in Kentucky have passed such ordinances since 2014, despite a ruling by former Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway they were illegal. The local ordinances were a top priority by ALEC, but AFSCME Indiana-Kentucky Council 962 fought back.
In his ruling, invalidating an ordinance passed in Hardin County, U.S. District Court Judge David Hale said that only state governments can opt out of the federal law that allows “agency shop” agreements that require employees to either pay union dues or “agency fees” to an organization elected to represent them by the majority of workers in a bargaining unit.
“ALEC thought it could push this through local councils – and it’s trying the same thing in Illinois and other states,” said Debra Garcia, executive director of Council 962. “But we had good reason to believe the law was on our side, and this ruling confirms it. Now we have to redouble our efforts in the state legislature to make sure this right-to-work scam isn’t revived.”
While Kentucky’s new governor, Matt Bevin, has taken aim at state employees, pro-worker legislators hold a slim lead in the state House of Representatives. Council 962 will be working hard to ensure that workers’ rights are not diminished further. The current session is expected to continue until mid-April.
by Kevin Brown | February 05, 2016
After years of advocating to improve the standard of care for California home care clients, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) providers began to receive overtime pay and pay for travel time and medical accompaniment time from the State of California – for the first time ever.
Until this week, caregivers did not receive basic labor protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure quality care for the state’s 400,000 IHSS clients. Now, thanks to the advocacy of AFSCME and its allies, home care providers will be fully paid for their work. The new rules went into effect Feb. 1.
“This is a historic win. After years of hard work, home care providers will finally gain the respect and equal treatment they deserve,” said Doug Moore, executive director of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, the Homecare Providers Union and an AFSCME International vice president. “This victory shows us what we can accomplish when we work together!”
But it didn’t come without a fight. An anti-worker group attempted to stop the new rules in court, and state lawmakers proposed a 40-hour cap that would disrupt continuity of care for many IHSS clients and dramatically reduce work hours for a fifth of the IHSS workforce. UDW/AFSCME members spent countless hours rallying, lobbying, knocking on doors, writing letters and making phone calls to stop anti-worker proposals and finally win the same labor protections other workers enjoy.
Their work gained IHSS providers $850 million in state and federal dollars to fund overtime, travel time and medical accompaniment time, which not only helps workers pay for housing, groceries, utilities and other improvements, but also ensures quality care for nearly half a million seniors and people with disabilities across California.
“I work overtime every week, providing care for my uncle,” explained Roy Pridemore, a home care worker in Orange County. “We live paycheck-to-paycheck, and sometimes I have to take payday loans just to keep up with the bills. Winning overtime pay is a huge stress reliever, and I’m so proud that caregivers and our union had a hand in making this happen.”
At the same time, UDW and allies continue to advocate to ensure home care clients will not see hours of care reduced due to the new regulations, and have already secured several exemptions to hourly workweek limits to meet the needs of clients and family caregivers.
by David Patterson | February 03, 2016
DES MOINES, Iowa – State legislators here, joined by supporters from around the state, introduced a new bill aimed at closing the gender pay gap. Iowa was one of 21 states to introduce equal pay legislation during the week of the seventh anniversary of President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Jan. 29.
Bills also are being offered in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington, Vermont, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Nebraska, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, Hawaii, Colorado, Arizona and Alaska.
In Iowa, bill sponsors Rep. Marti Anderson and Senate Pres. Pam Jochum joined with Iowa women impacted by pay discrimination at an event organized by SIX, the State Innovation Exchange.
“We’ve had an equal pay law in Iowa and it has no teeth and no effective penalties,” said Rep. Anderson. Speaking of her legislation, she added, “It’s time to put those in place.”
Progress on closing the gender pay gap has long been stalled. Today, women in Iowa earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. For women of color, the gap is much greater, with African-American women making 61 cents and Latinas only 57 cents per dollar made by white men.
“You can imagine how disheartened I was when I learned the male cooks I oversaw earned two dollars more an hour than I did,” said Anne Taylor, an Iowa worker in the restaurant business. “And to know that men and women of color were making less. This is not just a women’s issue. It’s a family issue. It is an equality issue. And it is unacceptable for our local government to keep ignoring it.”
Wage fairness isn’t the only benefit that laws with real teeth can provide.
“Equal pay is more than dollars and cents; it’s about respect, dignity and equality in the workplace,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to address the pay gap between men and women. The ink has more than dried on this bill, and it is time for women across the country to stop being short-changed.